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Struggling to keep friends

March 29, 2017 | By | 7 Replies Continue Reading
A woman asks why it’s so hard for her to keep friends.

QUESTION

Dear Friendship Doctor,

Hi there! So I have a question about not really having any friends. I am 27 years old and have struggled with this for probably about 10 years. I am also happily married, and I’ve asked my husband more than once if he thinks that it’s due to severe character flaws or personality traits that make people uncomfortable and he doesn’t think so. However, I just don’t seem to be able to keep any friends, so it seems like there must be something. It always feels like the people who I think are my friends are way more important to me than I am to them.

I do tend to have some social anxiety at times and I worry about how I come across a lot, partially due to years of embarrassing experiences. However, I am also a music teacher and have been teaching private lessons for 12 years and I’ve had a lot of experience with being friendly, engaging, and thoughtful. I would like to believe that means my social skills are decent, but I just don’t know what to think anymore.

None of the girlfriends I’ve had over the past few years contact me, and I don’t contact them anymore because I’m just so tired of the years of me being the one to do the contacting and I know very well they all have other friends that they hang out with and apparently care more about. Before I got married, and even sometimes now, it seems like I can’t have any platonic guy friends (or even casually happen to look at a guy simply because I’m in a room crowded with people) because they think I like them. Granted, this is an assumption mostly from what I can tell from body language and that I was not treated the same way other platonic girl friends were.

At this point though, I’ve given up trying to have any friends except for my husband, who is my best friend, of course! But between my work and my husband and my immediate family members who live in the same town as me and are kind of needy (my family was very dysfunctional when I was growing up, by the way, so don’t take that to mean I don’t care about them. It’s just stressful trying to have boundaries and be there for them at the same time), I don’t really feel like I have time anyway. I still feel sad though because I’m just tired of feeling like there’s something wrong with me and I don’t know why or what I did. And as an aside, my husband and my family would all say that I’m a very caring and giving person, and in thinking back, the people who I’ve thought were my friends have said that at some point as well.

So, I guess I don’t really know why I’m writing this. It seems that something about my personality if off-putting to most people and I can’t keep friends, but I can’t tell what it is. I know in reading this letter you probably won’t be able to tell either, but if there are any thoughts you do have about what I could do differently, I would appreciate it very much.

Signed, Mia

ANSWER

Hi Mia,

So many aspects of your life seem to be fulfilling: You have a good marriage; a job you enjoy doing and at which you are successful; and have reached acceptance and established realistic boundaries about having an imperfect family.

Your friendship problems seem to be long-standing and it’s hard to guess why you haven’t been able to keep friends. Sometimes, when people are very shy and anxious, others interpret their behavior and mannerisms as being standoffish and disinterested. But it sounds like you have good insight and go out of your way to act friendly and engaging.

Your comment about guys looking at you romantically rather than platonically is one thing that stands out in your letter. Could it be that you dress or act provocatively? This might be something that would make men attentive in a way that’s uncomfortable for you and also turn off other women.

Despite your disappointments, I hope you won’t give up on trying to make new friends (which doesn’t appear to be a problem for you) and maintaining relationships once they’re made (which seems to be what’s vexing you). While you are fortunate to have a husband who is also a friend, husbands aren’t a substitute for female companionship.

Given your situation, one possibility would be to make an effort to reconnect with one or more friends who have disappeared. Suggest meeting for coffee and find out what one of your old friends has been up to. I realize that this may be out of your comfort zone because you feel as if they have rejected you. But a friend’s disappearance may have nothing to do with you, per se. It may have been that she’s been busy, has many more friends than you do, or isn’t an “initiator.”

At the end of your get-together, express interest in getting together again. If the other person doesn’t pick up on it, contact her after a few weeks have passed. Repeat the same process with someone else. If you feel comfortable doing so, you might even share your problem with one of these individuals and ask whether you’ve done anything that has annoyed them.

It also might be worthwhile to speak to a counselor or mental health professional, someone who could give you some honest feedback about your personality knowing you in-vivo.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene


Previously on The Friendship Blog:

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Category: HAVING NO FRIENDS, Losing friends

Comments (7)

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  1. Veronica m Leone says:

    I have had a rough time with trying to find friends. Also keeping them, I always think about how in my 28 years of life I have never had one. I mean one that delt with my disability which I can control with meds. But I came to realize that it wasn’t about my disability at all it was because they were not very forgiving and I had lost her due to that. I never knew that lying was such a huge thing for people its really sad for me because I have tried everything to get a friend, I have prayed, talked to therapist, talked to god, and have been asking him for a friend since I was 18 years old im sad because I don’t want to be alone and I get very lonely and depressed, when I think about the past if there is anyway to help me please do I would love to hear it

  2. Nancy says:

    To Mia: IMHO, I think that the problem is probably not as much you as the people you are friends with. People are just too busy these days with work, family, house, and social media that it seems like one-on-one or group get togethers just come last. Especially if you are the one who is always the instigator trying to get together. That gets tiring. I have found that myself over the years. People you think are friends are really just co-workers. Real and true friends are hard to find. Be confident with who you are, try new hobbies, join a church or community organizations, start volunteering and forget about the ‘trying’ part of making friends. Another idea is for you and your husband to do more couples things and that might generate bringing some new people into your life. Good luck!

    • Wisteria says:

      I am older and have a lifetime of experience. I noticed in my twenties I had loads of friends — but…I was not married and did not have children, and none of my friends were married or had children, too. So that left a lot of time to hang out with each other.

      Later when I moved to a new state and started a job, I was a single parent of a six-year-old and although I had a government job and my child had a good school, it was very difficult to find friends.

      Like you, I often thought they were “friends,” but then realized we were just in the same place at the same time, and interacted because of that. The same with work. I thought many were “friends,” but we really didn’t socialize outside of work, and again I realized we were work-friends, not real friends.

      Also, I found that depending on the part of the country you live in, it can make a difference. On the West Coast it has been very difficult to find true friends. West Coast people seem more aloof, and not into talking about personal things. Conversation seems to revolve around work, surfing, food, just things that are not personal. On the East Coast, people tend to be much more into wanting to know YOU. People not used to that way of interacting could become offended. But they really do want to know about you, and they want you to know about them. So, since I’ve lived in so many states, I think that there is a definite cultural difference depending on where you life.

      It sounds like you’ve got a good head on your shoulders, and if you’re lucky enough to find just one friend, then that’s a good start. So, it may be that you’re married and some women are single, or it’s a cultural thing (if you never lived in other places, you might not know that interactions in locale can make a difference).

      Keep on what you’re doing, maybe start a Meetup group around your interests and meet people that way.

      You are lucky to have a husband who can be both friend and partner. It is difficult, especially nowadays (not sure why, but things have changed — maybe it’s the internet that contributes to that).

      You sound like a nice, thoughtful, creative person. Try to set up situations to meet more people, but, again, it can be that you are in a place that makes it harder to interact, and if you’re not making close friends, I’ll bet others aren’t either (but some people are not bothered by that).

      You sound like a kind, thoughtful woman, so design your own groups and ways to meet people. Sometimes it is better to take charge on your own and you get to filter it out. Good luck! 🙂

  3. DJ says:

    Sometimes sadly there are no simple answers. It is worthwhile chatting to a paychologist and ha e some assessments to see if anything comes up, get feedback and work with them to gain some further skills.
    In the meantime it may be worth doing some reading and workbooks in cognitive behaviour therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy.
    Could you also take up an interest or hobby where you will come in contact with people in a different way? Also it may help you to feel less of a need for friendships as you can focus on that interest.
    Good luck

  4. Amy F says:

    Since you’re the common denominator with the inability to maintain relationships, and you’re the only person you can change, you’re wise to look at yourself to examine areas you can improve. Having goof social skills in a professional setting doesn’t necessarily equate to having the same quality of skills in a social setting, although it does suggest you have the potential to adapt your skills. The way you asked your husband whether you gave “severe personality flaws” suggests you asked him in a rhetorical manner, “I’m not awful, am I?” and in a way that told him the answer you wanted. Giving honest feedback to such a question is difficult. Also, your husband might not be the best person to give you honest feedback, due to his love for you, he may not see flaws that are off-putting to friends. Therapy would probably help you gave appropriate boundaries with your family, and give you an avenue to get honest feedback about potential social issues in a non threatening atmosphere where you won’t be defensive to constructive criticism. If you go back and read your letter, you might see a subtext that says, “here are all the reasons it can’t be my fault”, which would be understandable having grown up on a dysfunctional family. Fault has nothing to do with having issues in your communication style and personality that might challenge your ability to make and maintain friendships. Only when you understand your part can you change.

    • Gardener says:

      Sometimes being the “common denominator” has nothing to do with why a person has a hard time making friends. It’s part of human nature.

      The fact this website exists and thousands of people report having difficulties making friends speaks loudly about this issue. A person could “be a friend” and have lots of great qualities, but it’s a two-way street. A person on their own cannot keep putting forward all of the work and think that’ll create a friendship. It does not. If people choose to interact with others, they are also making choices which contribute to their work toward the relationship. From what I’ve seen from the forums of this site, along with many other online forums, and talking to people IRL, a lot of people aren’t willing to put the effort.

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